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Davis R. Dewey papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: MC-0070

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Davis R. Dewey papers document Dewey's personal and professional life. The papers date from 1883 to 1913, the period of his early career as an academic economist. Most of the collection consists of correspondence with Dewey's family; with members of the St. Botolph Club; and with the Alumni Association of the University of Vermont. Of most interest is Dewey's voluminous professional correspondence concerning the affairs of the economics profession, correspondence and clippings documenting two early cases of academic freedom at leading American universities, and correspondence concerning the creation of the 12th US Census. The collection also includes family papers, correspondence concerning Dewey's membership in several voluntary associations, and class notes he took while an undergraduate student at the University of Vermont and a graduate student in economics at Johns Hopkins University.

The documentation is not comprehensive. The papers contain nothing on Dewey's work as a labor commissioner and consultant for the Federal government concerning the railway industry. A brief exchange of correspondence between Dewey and Terence V. Powderly is in the collection. Powderly was at one point head of the Knights of Labor, but is represented here as a Federal commissioner of immigration. There is very sparse coverage of the affairs of the MIT Economics Department which Dewey served for forty years as chair. Records of many of the publications Dewey authored during the period covered by the collection are also missing.

Dewey's academic life is not well documented. Teaching materials in the collection consist of a notebook of course notes from Hyde Park High School and two bound volumes of MIT course materials from 1893. Two early cases concerning academic freedom were evidently of interest to Dewey; the collection contains numerous clippings and some correspondence concerning the resignation of Brown University's President Andrews (1897) and the dismissal of an economics professor, Dr. A. Ross, from Stanford University over Ross' advocacy of free silver monetization (1900 to 1901). The only other academic affairs represented are records of Dewey's negotiations for employment by two universities in 1904 and 1905.

The papers include extensive records of Dewey's membership and participation in the early life of the American Economic Association (AEA), 1895 to 1908, and records of consulting work for various Federal and State agencies. By far the most complete sequence of correspondence in the collection concerns Dewey's almost single-handed organizing of the AEA's 1908 annual meeting. Included are substantive letters from some of the economics profession's best known names — John R. Commons, Richard T. Ely, Edwin R. A. Seligman, to name but a few. Also included is internal correspondence between members of the AEA's Publications Committee, as well as correspondence with contributors to the AEA's journal, the American Economic Review, and with members of the AEA's Executive Committee. It is among his papers as a member of the AEA that one gets the best sense of Dewey as a professional economist, an organizer and an administrator.

The collection contains some correspondence covering a brief period (1912 to 1914) in the early life of the American Statistical Association. However, no documentation of Dewey's long-standing position as editor of that group's journal, nor of his participation in many of its affairs is included.

A great deal of material, dated 1904 to 1908, concerning Dewey's consulting work on the 12th US Census is in the collection. He served as a member of its Census Advisory Committee. Most important are documents describing how research for the 12th Census was structured, especially in a report on Census research methods. Additional notes, galleys, and correspondence show Dewey's contributions to the Manufactures, Labor and Finance sections.

Records of Dewey's earliest consulting jobs (1894 to 1897) for the Massachusetts Children's Bureau and the Boston Public School Association also appear in the collection. The research produced for these agencies was instrumental in reforming the rehabilitative and educational policies regarding poor children used by the Office of the Overseers of the Poor in more than thirty Massachusetts towns. Records include correspondence with these offices, research notes, and drafts of reports.

Other consultancies represented in the collection included Dewey's work for the Office of the US Industrial Commission, the US National Monetary Commission, and the US Commission to the Paris Exposition of 1900. These records are sketchy, but they include correspondence, notes, and expense vouchers.

Dewey was a frequent writer and contributed to many scholarly yearbooks, encyclopedias, and other reference works. While few records in the collection pertain to his own publications, there is extensive documentation of his contributions to these larger works, in the form of correspondence with editors and publishers, research notes, research materials and outlines. Most prominent is his correspondence with the editor Albert Bushnell Hart, for whom Dewey wrote articles on economics, political economy, and history.

Additionally, much documentation is included in the collection concerning Discussions in Economics and Statistics, by Francis Amasa Walker, which Dewey edited for publication. There is no correspondence with Walker in the collection, though a few letters from his widow are included.


  • Creation: 1874 - 1913


Access note

This collection is open.

Conditions Governing Use

Access to collections in the Department of Distinctive Collections is not authorization to publish. Please see the MIT Libraries Permissions Policy for permission information. Copyright of some items in this collection may be held by respective creators, not by the donor of the collection or MIT.


Davis Rich Dewey was Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and one of several people who helped to shape the profession of economics as it is practiced today. Best known for his writings on United States economic history, his professional career spans fifty years (1886 to 1940), the formative period of the modern economics profession.

Dewey was born on April 7, 1858, the eldest of three sons of Archibald and Lucinda Dewey of Burlington, Vermont. His brothers were John Dewey, author, educator, and well-known social philosopher, and Charles Dewey of Portland, Oregon.

Receiving his AB in 1879 from the University of Vermont with Phi Beta Kappa honors, Dewey taught for one year in a district school at North Underhill, Vermont. The next year, he was appointed principal of a private academy at Underhill. For the 1881-1882 academic year, Dewey accepted an appointment as principal and instructor of Latin and Greek at the Hyde Park High School, in a community just outside of Chicago. In 1883 Dewey entered the graduate department of economics at Johns Hopkins University, secured a fellowship, and spent summers working as a correspondent for Bradstreet's Financial Review. He was graduated from Hopkins with the doctorate in 1886 having studied history, economics, and political economy. His PhD thesis entitled, "A History of American Economic Literature..." was less a piece of technical research than a survey of the practice of the early US economics profession.

Straight out of John Hopkins, Dewey received an appointment as instructor in history and political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. From the first he was involved in research, publishing his first articles, "Municipal Revenue from Street Railways" and "A Syllabus on Political History since 1815 ..." in 1887. He became interested in the internal affairs of two major professional organizations, the American Economic Association and the American Statistical Association. Dewey had, while still a graduate student, participated in the founding meeting of the American Economic Association, of which he was to become president in 1909. When that Association's journal, the American Economic Review was started in 1911, Dewey served as its first editor, a post he held until 1940. Also in his first year of service at MIT, he became a member and was elected secretary of the American Statistical Association, an office he was to hold until 1906. As secretary, and as a member of the Publications Committee, Dewey helped to edit the publications of that organization, too.

In the 1880s and 1890s, Dewey served as a consultant for several organizations concerned with social reform, including the Boston Children's Bureau. He was a member of the Massachusetts Society for Promoting Good Citizenship and a member of the Board of Directors of the politically powerful Boston Public School Association.

Throughout his career, Dewey undertook many consultancies and advisory positions. He considered his best published work to be the volume he researched and co-authored as a member of the U.S. Census Advisory Committee to the 12th Census (1902 to 1908) entitled Employees and Wages. This volume was a pioneering study into the working conditions of U. S. labor, as well as a comparative regional study of wage-labor. Prior to this appointment, Dewey had served as chair of a Special Commission in Massachusetts to Investigate the Subject of the Unemployed (1894), member of a Board to Investigate Charitable and Reformatory Institutions of Massachusetts (1896), member of the Municipal Department of Statistics of the City of Boston (1897 to 1950), and member of the State Commission on Relations between Employer and Employee (1904). Notwithstanding a heavy load of teaching, administration, writing, and editing, he served the Federal government in 1919 as Director of the Economic Section, Information Service, of the Department of Labor.

Twice in 1928, and again in 1932, Dewey was appointed to special mediation boards in several national railroad workers job actions. These cases involved the Kansas City, Mexico and Orient railway system, the Illinois Central Railroad, the Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, and the Gulf and Ship Island Railroad. These appointments were made by Presidents Coolidge and Hoover. In 1932, Dewey was also appointed by President Hoover to serve on a Board of Arbitration in settling a wage dispute between the Western Railways and the Order of Railway Conductors and the Brotherhood of Railway Trainmen. He was a joint author of the Annual Report of the U.S. Board of Mediation for 1928.

At MIT, Dewey served as an Instructor, 1886 to 1888; then Assistant Professor of Economics and Statistics, 1888 to 1889; Associate Professor, 1889 to 1892; and finally Professor and Department Chair, 1893 to 1933. He taught a course in engineering administration from 1913 until 1931, when a separate department of engineering administration was created, largely due to his efforts. He also served as chair of the MIT faculty from 1911 to 1913.

Dewey was interested in the quality of education, as demonstrated by the following quotation:

"The Student will too often leave with .. no systematic knowledge of the economic world, nor any well-defined theory of its workings. There must therefore be a far greater insistence upon... methods which will provide the missing experience."

Dewey was an associate of MIT President Francis Amasa Walker whose Discussions in Economics and Statistics he edited for publication in 1899, shortly after Walker's death. Dewey was also associated with the editor Albert Bushnell Hart. Dewey wrote the Financial History of the United States for Hart's American Citizen Series in 1902 and a volume entitled National Problems for Hart's American Nation Series in 1907. In 1904, Dewey's Financial History of the United States won the John Marshall Prize offered by Johns Hopkins. Dewey was a contributor to Palgrave's Dictionary of Political Economy, the New International Encyclopedia Americana, Encyclopaedia Britannica, American Year Book and the Commonwealth History of Massachusetts.

A representative of the modern field of economics, Dewey was indifferent to theorizing which had little to do with empirical fact. He was above all a practitioner, insisting that applied knowledge was the true realm of the academic economist. Dewey also maintained a lively interest in the politics of academe and followed several academic freedom cases of his day.

Dewey was married to Mary C. Hopkins of Madison, Wisconsin, in 1886. They had two children, Bradley Dewey and Dorothy Dewey (Mrs. A. Barr Comstock). A grandchild, Dr. Bradley Dewey, Jr. was President of the Dewey and Almy Chemical Company of Boston, and deputy rubber administrator during World War II. Dewey had six grandchildren, three of whom attended MIT.

He died on December 13, 1942.


3.3 Cubic Feet (10 manuscript boxes)

Language of Materials



Materials are stored off-site. Advance notice is required for use.

Related Materials

In the MIT Archives and Special Collections: the William Barton Rogers Papers (MC 1); the Dugald C. Jackson Papers (MC 5); and the records of the MIT Office of the President, 1897-1930 (AC 13).

Outside of MIT: the Francis Stuart Chapin Papers, 1920-1936, contain correspondence with Dewey. The Chapin Papers are located at the University of Minnesota Libraries, University Archives. For relevant collections concerning Johy Dewey, see the John Dewey Collected Papers, 1891-1973, and Sabino L. Dewey Papers, 1924-1939, both of which are located at the Southern Illinois University Library at Carbondale. The Sabino L. Dewey Papers contain family correspondence and information concerning Davis Rich Dewey's father.

Processing Information note

Some collection descriptions are based on legacy data and may be incomplete or contain inaccuracies. Description may change pending verification. Please contact the MIT Department of Distinctive Collections if you notice any errors or discrepancies.

Guide to the Papers of Davis Rich Dewey
Ready For Review
Fred T. Friedman
Copyright 1980
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Revision Statements

  • 2021 July 16: Edited by Lana Mason to remove aggrandizing terms in the biographical and scope and content notes description.

Repository Details

Part of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Libraries. Department of Distinctive Collections Repository

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